NOTE: This article may read as my single handed effort to move my Father to a safe place. In fact, my sister Lou Ann, and her husband, Fred, have been the prime caregivers for my Father for many years. My sister, Joyce, living in Jackson, has been a steady presence over the years. And my brother, Steve, has come to Casper as often as he can, from Michigan. Through the past several weeks, the entire Family, including my Father, have moved in concert, with the single goal of making my Father’s life safe and manageable.
Change announced itself with the ringing of the phone. I listened as Marian talked on the phone for several minutes. Paying little attention, at first, I realized she was talking to my youngest sister. With anxiety building, I took the phone. Change had come, unwanted, unhappily intruding on our family.
It was Sunday. My Father had fallen. He was in the hospital. My sisters were trying to balance their lives, and help. My brother and I, half a continent away, had to come to grips with change. Through the week we talked, sometimes in conference calls, often through texts. Change had come, but we did not know the new direction for our family.
My Father, after a second fall, and another trip to the ER, was finally moved to Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Center. He knew he wasn’t going home. He wasn’t safe there, anymore. Change had come, and I pushed myself away from denial.
Weather intruded, raining in San Jose, snowing on Donner and points east. Marian and I waited a day, anxiety and guilt building. Hoping for the best, we hastily put the cats in the kennel, and stuffed Sierra in the back seat. We put a brave face on our venture. Whatever our smiles might have said, change had come, and I was going home.
Our drive down a familiar highway brought back happy memories of family vacations. Half a continent had not deterred us from linking our children to our roots. We wanted roots to take hold, and our children bask in the warmth and love of extended families, and not be cut off from their past. But, lurking in the back of our minds was the knowledge that change had come at last. The roots would hold, or not.
Snow, briefly though it might lay on the ground, had come to the Sierras, and the mountain passes of Nevada. Armed with our best knowledge, we plunged from mid-Fall into winter, pitting our skills and hopes against Mother Nature. Knowing my Father was due to come out of the Rehabilitation Hospital, we drove east, toward the waiting change.
Racing east, the snows greeted us on Donner Pass. One prior Christmas, we had traversed the snow buried Pass in an all-wheel drive vehicle. Without knowing of the need for this trip, we had unsuccessfully forayed into the used car market. We were forced to trust our little Sentra was up to the task, and the roads would be opened. Once into Nevada, we met the storm four more times, as we crested successive mountain passes. Had there been an opportunity to pull over, or turn around, we would have waited out the storm. But, change had come, and waited not.
We reached Casper Thursday evening. Throughout the drive, we were occasionally distracted by our San Francisco Giants clawing their way to a World Championship. For the remainder of the trip, Halloween, Sandy, a Bronco’s win, a Nebraska football win, and an Election would drift by, little noticed and unimportant. Knowing my Father would soon exit Elkhorn, we visited Assisted Living facilities in Casper. Marian had faced this with her Mother two years before. She was utterly invaluable in understanding what was important, and prioritizing our concerns. With her support, I came to terms with how cooking might be done, carpets and area rugs that might snare a walker or a cane. We confronted taboo topics like shower benches, grab bars for toilets, and help taking baths and dressing. Spurred on by my Father’s question, “Where am I going to live now”, change had come for us all.
Conditioned by a life time, deferring to my Father, I was presented with endless judgment calls. Wanting to believe he wanted to make the decisions, we tried to describe his options, showing him glossy brochures and hastily taken snap shots. I am gratified he accepted some of our recommendations. I am relieved he still made different choices on other things. Walking out of Elkhorn, forever changing his life, he was applauded by the staff..
My Father chose Meadow Wind Assisted Living Center. The older wing, built several years ago, has been augmented by a new, two story wing. My Father joins about sixty other residents. Having lived for so many years on the West Side of Casper, he had returned to the East Side, about a mile from his old house on Country Club. Change had come, again.
Meadow Wind was the second facility we visited. It was tidy and clean. The residents seemed alert and happy. I hold out hope that my Father will embrace the change. He is no longer trapped in his tri-level house, friends melting away, feeling his age and frailty isolating him from the world. He has been rated as about mid-range in terms of age and physical abilities. Change has come. Once again he is no longer the oldest, slowest, or most frail. He can become part of a community, forming relationships with those of similar age, experience, and interests. If his natural extroverted optimism surfaces, he can form meaningful bonds that will last the rest of his days.
A phone call took us to Wyoming. For ten long days, we helped my Father find a new place to live, safe from those threats which had so recently harmed him. He helped us sort through a life time of possessions in his large, tri-level house, and pick those things which he wanted in his new, two-room apartment. With tears in our eyes, we returned to California, forever changed.